Ciovita, while sounding Italian, is a proudly South African brand, designing and producing all of its clothing in a dedicated factory in Cape Town. Those who follow the Absa Cape Epic mountain bike race may have heard the name before, as it has made and sponsored the race leaders' kits for many years.
Like the kit featured in our best gravel bike shorts feature, the Ciovita cargo bibs are an off-road take on the classic bib short but with the addition of storage pockets for carrying light items such as food or gels. Given the tough conditions they were designed for on the famous Cape Town trails, I was keen to give them a go and see how well they performed.
Design and specification
The cargo bib short uses a lot of tech from the Corsa 2.0, which is the brand's premium road bib short. They are made using a combination of different Italian Lycra materials in a multi-panel design. Ciovita is tight-lipped about the actual Lycra used, bar it being APF-treated for optimal moisture control and to avoid odors. It presumably stops other brands from copying, but I'd describe it as a heavier-duty version than usually found on a standard bib short. Unusually there's no mention of whether the material is made using recycled materials or any kind of ethical manufacturing procedure, though.
Tailored is how Ciovita classes the cargo short, and I'd say it's a great description of the fit. They are tight as you'd expect from a Lycra garment, but not restrictively so as some compression wear or aero clothing can be. I'm not exactly built like a Tour de France pro, and I found this cut perfect. The leg length is about perfect, too – not so long that they hang over the knee with the potential for getting loose, but also not halfway up the thigh.
The padded insert, or chamois as it is sometimes referred to, is the highlight of these shorts for me. The three-layer Radon C2 pad features a four-way stretch outer fabric layer that feels great to touch and has a very soft handle or feel, a perforated foam inner layer to help with breathability, and the third layer, which is a high-density breathable Vita-Foam that gives plenty of support and shock absorption but without being too bulky at 12mm thick.
The bibs are elastane snap-back straps that attach further down than a classic pair would, the idea here being to offer more support and a closer fit without being too tight or restrictive. The front section sits around the navel when on, and the rear panel features a mesh back to improve breathability. Leg grippers are broad and feature a rubberized backing to keep the shorts in place without creating any unsightly tight spots and have a neat reflective band on the back of each leg. They have four pockets, two at the back and two on the side, made from a tightly woven mesh material with plenty of stretch, perfect for stashing food or gels you want quick access to mid-ride.
The quality of the materials used was immediately apparent the second I picked these up. The heavier-than-usual Lycra has a real quality feel. It has plenty of stretch but didn't feel as fragile as high-end options can often be, and I loved the battleship gray color my pair came in, called Carbon by Ciovita. The heavier material makes perfect sense for an off-road short; it has a far more robust feel than I'm used to, and the shorts have held up brilliantly over a long summer of riding gravel, XC, and road.
The padded insert reminded me of one of my favorite shorts from high-end Swiss brand Assos. The top layer material that sits next to your skin has a soft touch, and the pad itself has a firm feel without being too squishy or massive. It hit a real sweet spot for me; minimal padding isn't great for gravel comfort, but something resembling a nappy can be uncomfortable and a cause for chafing too.
Sizing on Lycra shorts is a long-running industry joke in my experience, and I've worn everything from Small to XL in other brands. Following the fit guide on the brand's site, I went for a medium, which worked great for me, so extra kudos for that. Ciovita says these should have a compressive feel which I'd agree with, but at no point did they feel too tight. I've had variable results from compression-based clothing in the past, especially shorts, and these are among the best I've used, really nailing the right feeling between supportive and restrictive.
The extra storage options on the legs were a revelation for me. I thought they might be a bit of a gimmick and one I'd not really use. But after 25 years or so of using jersey pockets for stashing food, I'm not sure I could now go back to a normal bib short for longer rides. The rear pockets I used far less often, as I found the position to be close to that of my jersey pockets, and doubling up became uncomfortable, although, for short rides, they are a great place to stash a key or credit card.
These were my go-to shorts all summer, whether for an evening's golden hour blast or four to five-hour gravel rides. The combination of the great three-layer insert, supportive and very robust material, additional storage, and the fit that suited my body shape made them the first clothing item I'd wear for gravel and road rides.
They are very reasonably priced, too, compared to offerings from MAAP, Rapha, and 7Mesh, considering the high quality. My only criticism is the lack of eco credentials compared to rival clothing brands.
Tech specs: Ciovita Cargo bib shorts
- Price: $145 / £108 / €125
- Colors: Black, Carbon (gray as tested)
- Materials: APF-treated Italian Lycra
- Padded insert: Three-piece with 12mm Vita-Foam layer
- Sizes: Standard fit, S, M, L, XL, XXL, 3XL
- Available from: Ciovita.com